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Insight From The Enemy: Q&A With And The Valley Shook

Billy Gomila at And The Valley Shook was gracious enough to answer some questions regarding the Battle for the Golden Boot on Friday. Killer football analysis and Thanksgiving recipes, what more could you ask for?

Chris Graythen

1. Much fanfare was made before the season about LSU's five-headed monster at the running back position, but balance like that is difficult to maintain. Have any of the backs stepped up to take a more primary role? Have any faded into obscurity?

LSU's done a pretty good job of working the rotation to perfection the last few seasons, but Miles has always had a preference for a top two that he can rely on for the bulk of the work. Early in the season it was Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard, but injuries have sidelined both and in the last month, freshman Jeremy Hill and junior Spencer Ware have emerged as the top two.

Both are north of the 220-pound mark and good receivers out of the backfield. Hill gives you a little more burst, and has broken long touchdown runs in three out of the last four games, and had a long one called back against Alabama. Ware could be best described as a violent runner. He almost seems to enjoy colliding with defenders, and can be a tone-setter for the offense at times. He also may have the best hands on LSU's whole team.

2. Ryan Mallett or Zach Mettenberger. Better quarterback with a misdemeanor record? Also, how has Mettenberger lived up to the hype this season? Are LSU fans satisfied with his performance?

It has to be Mallet on accomplishments so far, but Mettenberger's still new to the game. We tried to keep expectations somewhat tempered at ATVS, and honestly, the struggles early in the year were kind of team-wide when it came to the passing game. A banged up O-line couldn't protect, and drops were a huge issue with the receiving corps -- one that isn't totally cured, even still.

But sometime over the bye week, things just started clicking for Mettenberger, and he's turned in three straight 250-plus yardage games, the first LSU quarterback to do that since Tommy Hodson in the late 80s. Honestly, he's just running the offense and finding the open guy right now. And what's more, he's won over the team by showing a hell of a lot of toughness. He dusted himself off after some big shots last week against Ole Miss, and kept firing. This passing game still lacks that Rueben Randle-type go-to guy, but Mettenberger has been making the best of it, and giving us all serious optimism for 2013.

3. Each season's iteration of LSU's defense seems identical to those in years past. The level of talent remains the same, with only the names changing. How does this year's squad, led by Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, and Eric Reid, live up to their predecessors?

It's been a step back from the 2011 unit, to be sure, but not much of one. And that's kind of crazy given the players that have departed, including the obvious loss of a Heisman-trophy candidate in August.

There's a lot of youth in this secondary, something that scares me against a veteran QB like Tyler Wilson. Redshirt and true freshmen at two of the top three corner spots, and safety play has been spotty. Eric Reid was expected to make the jump to All-American status this season and he's been a bit of a disappointment. The big shock has been the emergence of Kevin Minter as a big-time playmaker at the middle linebacker spot. Overall, this unit has been a bit spotty, but it's still good enough to be in the top 15 in every major category. And when it's on, it can be pretty dominant.

4. Two punters from Australia are listed on the LSU roster. Coincidence, or does Crazy Uncle Les have a recruiting pipeline down under? Also, when in the hell does kicker Drew Alleman run out of eligibility? The world can only handle so many attempts at the French pronunciation by Lundquist.

Technically, Brad Wing finished high school in the Baton Rouge area, but the new guy, Jamie Keehn, honestly looks like somebody Les found in a dive-bar in the Northern Territory. I have no reason not to believe that is the case. As for Alleman, rest easy -- not only is this his final season, but he's been pretty shaky at times this year. But Uncle Verne will certainly find some other name on the roster to over-pronounce.

5. So, the Les Miles press conference following last week's win over Ole Miss. I just, wow. What is the response of Tiger fans? Just more Les being Les? His record is hard to argue with, but... well, you know. Is it embarrassing? If not, has it ever been in the past? Is it now part of his charm?

For the large part, most of us enjoyed the heck out of it. Why would we be embarrassed that our coach's love for his team and his outgoing seniors overcame his ability to speak publicly for a couple minutes? Largely, the rant came as a result of a local writer that called Russell Shepard a "flop" in a column. And while I wouldn't say that's an unfair statement, it's also not surprising to me that Miles went to bat for his player and took up for him. Sure, there will always be his detractors, even amongst LSU fans, but you can't argue with the fact that he's won at about as high a level as you can expect this side of Alabama's recent run, and frankly it's been a damn fun ride.

And besides, he's had enough of these moments that it makes it pretty hard for any single one to truly live on in infamy, Mike Gundy "I'm A Man, I'm 40"-style. And honestly, if he doesn't go off on one of these tangents, his press conferences are usually pretty boring and coach-speaky.

6. This week LSU takes its first trip to Razorback Stadium on the campus of the University of Arkansas since 1992. Are Tiger fans excited about making the trek up to Fayetteville instead of Little Rock this season? The venue for this game when Arkansas hosts is a hotly contested issue over the past few seasons. Where do you stand on the matter? Will War Memorial Stadium be missed by Tiger fans, as it appears that ship has sailed for now?

I for one could not wait for this news, because I was tired of watching this game get played in what looked like a glorified high school stadium. War Memorial was a dump. There were play clock issues every year it seemed, and didn't punts whack the skycam wires in the last two games there? And while I've never made the trip up to Arkansas for this game, if I ever do I would much rather see the U of A campus, personally. I don't imagine Arkansas fans would want to play LSU in Shreveport's Independence Stadium, either.

7. More than the venue, it seems the traditional date for the match-up between Arkansas and LSU is up in the air as well. Rumors are that Texas A&M will replace Arkansas as LSU's final game of the season, with the game being played on Thanksgiving. Missouri is rumored to be Arkansas' new dance partner to close out the year. I have mixed feelings about it, but most Arkansas fans are vehemently against it. How do LSU fans feel about that possibility?

Once again, LSU fans are ecstatic at this thought. Don't get me wrong, playing Arkansas is great, but the notion of this game being a rivalry on par with the real rivalries that dot the final weekend of the regular season always felt a bit forced. Nevermind the Friday afternoon timeslot, which has always sucked. College football in this league was meant to be played on Saturday, and LSU home games are damn sure meant to be played on Saturday nights. And while there are some great memories and moments from this series since the 2000s, I don't think that's going to change just because the game is played earlier in the season.

8. Obligatory food question: Walk us through a Cajun Thanksgiving. Any different than what we might put on up here in Arkansas?

My reputation precedes itself? I'm married to a girl from north Louisiana, and let me make it clear that our families' Thanksgiving traditions re: food could not be more different. We're lighter on the casseroles in Southeast Louisiana, and one of my favorite traditional dishes, which I picked up from my grandmother after her passing, is for Oyster Dressing -- we don't mess around with that degenerate "stuffing" foolishness. Basically, bread crumbs, onion/bell pepper/celery, seasonings, a lot of margarine and oysters. You can also make it with some good smoked sausage as well. And of course, don't forget to fry that turkey (but please don't burn your house down).

I actually be partaking in Thanksgiving out instead of at the family home, due to some lingering Hurricane Isaac damage, but I still may find a way to make some dressing for friends over the weekend.

9. LSU stands to be heavy favorites, but what is your prediction for how the game will play out? What are the key match-ups on both sides of the ball? Any under the radar players to keep an eye out for? Finally, a score prediction if you don't mind.

Mettenberger's emergence plus Arkansas' porous secondary seems like a pretty bad matchup, though I hope LSU will stick with the run at times, just to make sure that Wilson doesn't have too many opportunities to pick on the younger cornerbacks, especially with Cobi Hamilton. The defense has looked vulnerable in the last few weeks, but not enough to worry me, so long as the offense isn't sputtering around like it did earlier in the season at Auburn and Florida. LSU has struggled on the road this season, but I think the general offensive improvement we've seen in the last month should carry over pretty well. The passing game was a lot shakier the last time LSU went out on the road, regardless of the opponent.

Watch out for tight end Travis Dickson, who came out of nowhere to have a very nice game last week against Ole Miss, and might give LSU the big redzone passing target they haven't really had this season.

I'm not one for score predictions, but I feel pretty comfortable that if LSU can show up focused and ready to play, they can take care of business.